On Saturday, I ran 13.1 miles for the first time since 2011. If you’ve been reading along with my training recaps (and frankly I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t have; that shit is gripping), you know I’ve been working toward this goal for about 12 weeks now, but training has not gone perfectly. The pain from my old hip injury started to flare up again after I packed a lot of mileage into a few days during spring break, and in order to get my hip to calm down again, I had to miss two key long runs (and a handful of short ones, too). My longest run of the training cycle was just ten miles — okay, but not ideal.
Saturday morning, I headed down to the race start feeling fairly confident I could finish, but knowing I wasn’t going to set any records or finish in a time anyone would regard as “fast.” Fine by me. (Meh.)
I had good company at the start — my friend Jenn had come into town to visit and run the race, and my friend Becky was there to run the 5K. My boyfriend would be waiting at the finish line. Even if I wasn’t racing for time, I knew I’d be able to make a fun morning out of it.
We lined up haphazardly in the middle of the street (no corrals, pace signs, or any other kind of indication of where to be) and probably seeded ourselves a little too close to the front. After waiting about fifteen minutes past the designated start time, without any kind of announcements, starting gun, or even the word “Go,” we were off.
(Can you tell this local race is a little disorganized? Let’s just say I’m glad I was carrying my own water and Gu.)
As usual, I went out too fast because I was feeling great. The first five miles flew by, due in no small part to some long declines as we headed toward Chewacla State Park on the south side of town. After the turnaround (at mile 5 or so), we started a long climb back up toward the neighborhoods around campus. There’s a particular hill that I know really well after struggling up it countless times on my bike last summer. It feels gradual, but endless, until it finally levels off and you can catch your breath — and then you’re faced with The Hill Part 2: Electric Boogaloo, the highly anticipated sequel which is in fact longer and steeper and, like almost all sequels, much worse than the original.
Fine, fine. I exaggerate. But it is a tough hill, and it was the first one that, for me, necessitated a walking break. During the second half of the race, I made it a habit to walk about half of every incline. My hill mantra in years past used to be “I eat hills for breakfast.” Alternate version: “Hills are an ooportunity to pass other runners.” Today’s much more resigned hill mantra: “Just don’t anger your hip.”
Around mile ten, we had made our way back to the campus area and I was officially running New Miles. Since my injury and PT, none of my training runs had gone longer than ten miles, so every step past that number was new territory for me. Emotionally, it felt great to be marking my name on new miles of road. Physically, my legs were unhappy. All down my right leg, I could feel it: my hip was tired (but I could tell I wasn’t straining/re-injuring it), my hamstring was tightening up, my IT band was tight and rubbing against my knee, my calf had turned to stone, and my foot had even joined in the chorus of barking. At one point, I had to stop at a lamppost and go through a series of quick stretches to get going again. After that, I felt markedly better.
The last three miles were slow. By this point, I could see only a few runners around me. Some water stops were unmanned. At the last few intersections there were no longer any police directing traffic, so I had to stop and wait a couple of times to cross the road. I wasn’t sure if the officers handling those points had left already or if they had simply never had anyone stationed there, but it made me feel like I must be really far behind. Was the course closing behind me? It turned out that it wasn’t (plenty of people finished later than I did), but the feeling wasn’t pleasant.
As I rounded the last corner, coming into view of the stadium again, I realized I was about to be finished, so I kicked it into as high a gear as I had remaining and chugged toward the gates. Running down the field to finish on the 50 yard line, your image blown up on the JumboTron in the end zone, is one of the attractions of this particular race. In my opinion, crossing any finish line is amazing, whether it’s in a stadium, in the middle of the street, or even in a parking lot. At this point, I was just happy to see that timing mat ahead of me.
I could hear Becky and CW cheering for me in the stands, and I “sprinted” for that line as best I could. It felt great to stop.
My finish time wasn’t anwhere near my pre-injury PR of 2:06, but thankfully it wasn’t as slow as my slowest time ever, set at my first ever half marathon, of 2:29. Honestly, I’m not happy with the time, but I am happy with the finish. I’ll take it.
After the race, we hung around in the stands for a little while snapping photos until Jenn and I (and our tired legs) felt equipped to make the Everest-like climb up to the stadium exit. This is not my favorite aspect of a stadium-finish race, I will tell you what. Thank goodness for race sherpas.
We walked downtown and met up with another friend, K., who had also run the 5K — her very first ever road race! A celebratory brunch with mimosas, Bloody Marys, and plenty of fried potatoes capped off the morning. If your breakfast involves good friends, adult beverages, and potatoes, you are doing something right, I always say.
Thanks so much for all the cheers and support over the last 12 weeks– it really means a lot.